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Trump Just Revealed How He’ll Attack Biden at Debate—and It’s Vile

He’s going to pin “migrant killings” on Biden. It’s false, and here’s how Biden should respond.

Donald Trump wearing a MAGA cap and speaking into a microphone
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump in Racine, Wisconsin, on June 18

You can’t say you weren’t warned: At the upcoming presidential debate on June 27, Donald Trump plans to highlight a handful of horrific murders—allegedly by undocumented migrants—and blame them on President Biden. We know this because Trump told us so right on his Truth Social feed.

“We have a new Biden Migrant Killing—it’s only going to get worse, and it’s all Crooked Joe Biden’s fault,” Trump seethed, referring to the horrible death of a 12-year-old Texas girl. “I look forward to seeing him at the Fake debate on Thursday. Let him explain why he has allowed MILLIONS of people to come into our Country illegally!”

Now that Trump has telegraphed this coming assault, the Biden campaign has time to prepare a response. What should it be?

First, let’s be clear on why this line of attack is pure nonsense. Trump and MAGA figures have aggressively highlighted such killings lately, in many forms: Trump sometimes brings up victims at campaign events. MAGA lawmakers put them on T-shirts. Fox News airs visuals of migrant mug shots. And as Aaron Rupar shows, Fox sometimes even puts individual crimes in chyrons.

The argument is always that Biden’s policies are to blame for these horrors. But at the most obvious level, this is absurd, because immigrants do not commit crimes at higher rates than native-born Americans do. That includes undocumented immigrants. There is no link between immigration and violent crime.

Of course, the real Trump-MAGA message is that all undocumented immigrants should be presumed violent and dangerous, regardless of what any pointy-headed statistics say. MAGA figures are highlighting specific killings to smear millions—that is, they’re arguing by anecdote.

But even at the anecdotal level, the claims implode under scrutiny. Take Rachel Morin, a young mother who was horrifically murdered in Maryland, allegedly by a migrant from El Salvador. Trump highlighted her at a recent rally, and MAGA figures regularly cite her to criticize Biden’s new legal protections for the undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens.

Fox News is now excitedly reporting that her alleged killer is a “gotaway” migrant, caught and expelled from the United States three times in early 2023 before getting in undetected and carrying out the killing. This is supposed to indict Biden. But it actually undermines the Trump-MAGA case.

That’s because a repeat border crosser like this isn’t remotely like the people eligible for Biden’s new policy. Those half-million undocumented immigrants have lived and worked here for over a decade, have no criminal history, have deep ties to U.S. communities, are married to U.S. citizens, and are often raising American kids. Using a “gotaway” transient thug to smear these people itself reveals what an absurdity this whole propaganda trope truly is.

What’s more, as that Fox report established, this particular migrant was repeatedly kicked out under the Title 42 Covid-related health rule first instituted under President Trump and temporarily kept by Biden. This was a near-total ban on asylum-seeking that Trump initiated. Yet this alleged killer entered even though the tightest possible restrictions on asylum were in place. So you can’t blame this on supposedly lax asylum policies by Biden, either (he’s made them as draconian as possible, regardless).

Here’s the rub: Such migrants eventually get in precisely because they keep trying. Some percentage will inevitably be violent criminals, but that number has been really, really tiny under both Trump and Biden. Regardless, presidential “toughness” can’t do much here anyway. Such “gotaways” rose substantially under Trump, as the Cato Institute shows, apparently because Title 42 encouraged repeat efforts to cross. They did rise further under Biden but then came way down again (after Title 42 ended). Toughness didn’t dissuade crossings under either administration.

By the way, as president, Trump also released hundreds of thousands of detained migrants into the interior—because resource constraints leave presidents no choice. And let’s recall that Trump recently ordered Republicans to kill billions of additional dollars for border security. The Trump-MAGA claims collapse on every level.

Granular facts can only go so far here, of course, because Trump’s meta-messages are emotional and visceral: All undocumented migrants are violent and dangerous by definition. Biden wants to let all of them stay, and Trump would deport them all, because Biden is weak and Trump is strong.

So I asked Democratic strategists how Biden should respond when Trump brings up “migrant killings” at the debate. James Carville says Biden’s best move would be to tell a bigger story on crime, supercharged by “new information.”

As Carville told me, Biden should say directly to Trump: “When I took over from you, crime in the United States was rising. I inherited a rising crime rate. We are now in one of the greatest declines in crime we’ve had in modern American history.” Carville added: “The public doesn’t know that.”

Dan Pfeiffer, a former top communications adviser to President Barack Obama, said Biden should avoid fights over any specific murder. “Instead, the President should express concern about the victim and their family,” he said, “and pivot to a broader comparison” on immigration that stresses “the chaos that Trump unleashed in our immigration system with his cruelty and incompetence.”

Biden’s protections for undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens offer an opening for this contrast. He can point out that Trump would cancel these protections and rapidly ramp up an effort to deport all those spouses and all other undocumented immigrants in the country. Biden’s protections humanize the people Trump would subject to extraordinary disruption and cruelty.

Indeed, former Obama adviser Jon Favreau noted that Biden can spotlight the absurdity of blaming isolated murders on that sympathetic population, people who are understood to belong to American families. “Biden should say, ‘My plan is to keep families together,’” said Favreau, who details polling on the appeal of that framing on a forthcoming podcast episode. “Trump’s plan is to rip those families apart.”

A truly strange thing about this attack is that it is everywhere in the MAGA information universe, yet it’s unfolding under the radar of the national media. Trump and his propagandists are seizing on isolated horrible killings to smear large classes of people in the vilest terms imaginable. To repurpose Brian Beutler’s formulation, this kind of shamelessness, malice, and pathological bad faith in public life is incompatible with a decent society. Yet all this is rarely covered as aggressively as Trump’s other excursions into authoritarian politics have been.

Coverage of this might involve stand-alone pieces pointing out the broader Trump-MAGA pattern of cherry-picking such killings, the absurdity of applying them to immigrants as a class, and the whole exercise’s obvious intent to stoke racial paranoia. The New York Times has done excellent articles surfacing such subterranean racialized language in other contexts. Why not here?

Such pieces might also feature warnings from experts about why such language about migrants is deeply dangerous and socially combustible, and what history tells us about where it leads.

If any good can come of Trump bringing up “Biden migrant killings” at the debate, perhaps it’s that it might force such a media reckoning. Either way, Biden should be ready to meet all of it head-on, frontally and forcefully.